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Collier County turns 100: Naples’ existence and history rooted in paradise retreat

BY May 8, 2023
Naples Pier
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The roots of modern-day Naples began as a resort destination, a precedent that forms the basis of the region’s lifeblood even 100 years later.

The local economy has always featured a tourism component, drawing visitors to the area’s natural beauty and remote existence between the bountiful Gulf of Mexico and the Everglades swamps. The destination’s earliest businesses—a hotel, real estate office, retail stores and fishing guides—are still as important in today’s economy as they were 100 years ago, as Collier County and Naples celebrate their first century of incorporation this year.

Basically, Naples’ pristine location along the beach created a quiet winter resort spot for wealthy families from some of the nation’s coldest northern states. The steamship Fearless ferried them to the Naples Pier, which connected the Gulf to the area’s original tourist accommodations: the Naples Hotel, off Third Street between Broad Avenue and 13th Avenue South.

“In the early years, it was really seasonal,” says John Telischak, education manager for Naples Historical Society. “It did start out as a resort—a hotel, initially—and people came here for various reasons. They came here for their health, because the climate was supposed to be good for certain ailments. A lot of places in the United States in the late 19th century, if you were wealthy and you could afford to, you’d go to certain places for respite if you had a certain ailment.”

Guest stationery at the former hotel promoted the healthy climate of Naples on the Gulf, “a beautiful little city on the west coast of Florida,” continuing: “It is in the healthiest part of the healthiest county (Lee) in the United States. Entire freedom from malaria, climate perfect, rain but one day a month during the winter, the finest surf bathing on a beautiful beach absolutely free of undertow, and the best hunting and fishing in Florida right on the spot.”

The city did not exactly come about by chance. In the mid-1880s, two Kentuckians, Walter N. Haldeman and Sen. John S. Williams, sailed along the Gulf in search of the perfect spot for a winter home and a utopian place to create a town—and what eventually would be a real estate boom after the railroad reached the area in the late 1920s.

The personal beachside homes built by Haldeman, the editor of the Louisville newspaper, and Williams, a former Confederate general and U.S. senator, were the original frame houses in what would become Naples, named because of its comparison to Naples, Italy. They created the Naples Town Improvement Company, later shortened to the Naples Company, which built the pier and the hotel and plotted streets and lots.

The wooden pier, first built in 1888, became the iconic link from the land to the Gulf and served as a dock for unloading supplies and people. The pier was the gateway to Naples then and led to the area’s first hotel. It also was the site of the area’s post office until a fire destroyed it in 1922, a year before the town of Naples was incorporated.

Read the full story by Gulfshore Business here.

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